Restoration business repurposes old Moffat County saw mill
CRAIG — The process begins with the harvest of trees killed by mountain pine beetle and ends with the production of about six blue pine products.
“The wood straw pays the bills. We’re also producing custom-cut lumber, fence stays and selling waste logs for firewood,” said Mountain Pine Manufacturing President Trent Jones.
Mountain Pine Manufacturing and Rogue Resources have been operating in Routt County, but when the businesses began to grow, it elected to move to Moffat County.
“It’s not easy to find enough property with the three-phase electric power that we needed at a good price,” Jones, a certified public accountant turned sawmill owner, said.
He and his business partners found 40 acres and the infrastructure needed for a sawmill about 13 miles north of Craig on Colo. Highway 13 when they purchased the old Cox family sawmill.
“The mill has been closed for about 20 years. We made an effort to clean up the property and to bring in some modern equipment, and we are open for business,” Jones said.
The old mill was set up to produce structural timbers for area mines. The Cox family had constructed a new building to produce wood molding when it lost a large mining contract, halting operations in the mid 1990s, said Jones.
The building, meant for molding production, is now geared for the production of wood straw, also called wood strand mulch — developed by the U.S. Forest Service as an alternative to agricultural straw for use in erosion control.
“Scientists performed all kinds of tests to determine that long, thin, square strands of wood are ideal to control erosion and provide cover, without inhibiting regrowth of vegetation. Unlike agricultural straw, is doesn’t blow away in the wind, and it doesn’t remove nitrogen from the soil,” Jones said.
MPM is producing 50-pound bales of wood straw using waste veneer — scrap material cast-off during the production of plywood sheets — from California.
This summer timber killed by the mountain pine beetle will be harvested from about 300 acres near Clark. Jones intends to use the outer layers to create wood straw, leaving an inner core from which he can produce custom wood products.
Beetle-killed pine takes on a natural blue stain that has become highly desired for consumer products, but the same process that creates the stain creates cracks in the wood rendering 50 to 60 percent of each log unusable in lumber production.
“We had a mill in Milner for a few years where we produced lumber, but we couldn’t make it viable, long-term, when only about 40 percent of the log was usable. When we learned about wood straw, I knew we could use more of the log to create multiple products and a viable business model,” Jones said.
Wood straw is sold to contractors responsible for reclaiming soil disturbed by wildfire or large-scale construction projects, such as highway embankments, oil pad reclamation and other building sites.
Using a small lumber mill, the company is also able to produce custom work for area builders, fence stays for ranchers and firewood.
It is working on contracts that would see its sawdust waste shipped for use in making wood pellets or in energy production in biomass plants.
Once the equipment from the old mill and the new machines are in place, Jones expects the company will produce about six products from every dead tree.
MPM and Rogue Resources will share the property as a base for their Moffat County operations.
“We are creating new products from waste materials,” Jones said.
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.
Dozens of people turned out to get answers from the Moffat County School District Board of Education during a community town hall held on July 16 at the former East Elementary School.